LOS ANGELES (AP) - The city violated state pollution laws by spilling sewage more than 2,000 times over the past five years, a lawsuit filed by two environmental agencies charged.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board contend the city still averages 50 spills per month. The federal suit, filed Monday, seeks civil penalties and improvements to the city's wastewater facilities.
"The big issue here is protecting the public's health," said H. David Nahai, chairman of the regional water quality board. "We need to remedy the situation which has become intolerable."
Though Los Angeles recently upgraded its sewage treatment plant to meet environmental standards, the 6,500 miles of sewer pipes leading to it are insufficiently maintained, state and federal officials said.
Part of the problem, the suit said, is grease blockages, mainly from restaurants and food processing plants.
City officials called the litigation unwarranted.
Deputy Mayor Ben Austin said the city has been negotiating in good faith with EPA officials, has made substantial repairs to the system as part of a $600 million sewer improvement project and has an additional $1.4 billion worth of work planned over the next 10 years.
EPA and state water officials have sought to require the city to complete the work more quickly and to enact additional regulations on businesses that city officials have said are too costly.
The EPA and the state water board recommend that the city require food establishments to capture grease. Austin said that would be too expensive.
Los Angeles has the largest wastewater collection system in the nation, serving more than 4 million people over 550 square miles.